Children are taken so seriously as art audiences that there is now a biennale – the art world’s favourite format for high-profile, highbrow contemporary art showcases – dedicated to them.
The first Children’s Biennale in Singapore, which opened on May 20 with the theme of Dreams And Stories at the National Gallery Singapore, showcases 10 installations aimed at children of all ages. While the works may be brightly coloured or interactive – which is typical of art aimed at a young audience – they also often have strong conceptual underpinnings.
In Duplet, by Singapore artist Lynn Lu, 43, two people sit under a “cloud head” and respond simultaneously to 10 open-ended questions, one after another, within three minutes. The questions include “What makes you happiest?” and “What do you dream of doing and why haven’t you done it?”
Another installation, Firewalk: A Bridge Of Embers, by Filipino artist Mark Justiniani, 51, invites children and adults to walk across a 16m bridge and experience what it feels like to be suspended in space and time. The bridge comes with a see-through floor which looks into an “archaeological site” that seems to – thanks to an optical illusion – stretch endlessly into the ground.
In Homogenizing And Transforming World by Japanese art collective teamLab, visitors can tap on suspended glowing orbs which change colour and produce sounds when touched, or run their fingers over woodcuts re-created from the works of cultural medallion recipient Chng Seok Tin.
The biennale aims to create a deeper experience by “connecting with both the child and the adult, without compromising the art experiences for both”, says its director Suenne Megan Tan, who is also the gallery’s director of audience development and engagement.
Finding the delicate balance between catching the eye of children and providing food for thought for all is the aim of another show taking place during the June holidays in Singapore.
The annual Imaginarium exhibition at the Singapore Art Museum’s SAM at 8Q, which opened on May 6 and is in its seventh edition, has both the child and adult in mind.
Andrea Fam, 29, who co-curated the show, says it does not shy away from more mature themes such as war.
“We feel it is important to engage adults and also introduce these themes to children, who are going to be our next generation of art appreciators.”
For instance, the artwork Lie Of The Land, by Laotian artist Bounpaul Phothyzan, 38, showcases two 4m torpedo-shaped metal planters filled with pots of ferns.
The artist refashioned these from bombshells found in Laos, said to be the most heavily bombed country in the world, with thousands of undetonated bombs still scattered across its land area.
Some exhibits come with activity corners. There are also guided tours, workshops on ecoliving and toddler art, and short film screenings.
Meanwhile, at the Gan Heritage Centre, children can attend a workshop conducted in Mandarin and learn more about Di Zi Gui, a book filled with the teachings of Chinese philosopher Confucius. They can also brush up on their Chinese writing skills by learning Yan calligraphy, named after Yan Zhenqing, a leading calligrapher from China’s Tang Dynasty.
At the Singapore Philatelic Museum, there is the A Little Magic exhibition, where children can enter the fantastical realm of fairytales through beautiful stamps from all over the world and engage their senses with interactive exhibits.
Singaporean crochet artist Kelly Lim has her unique works featured at three heritage centres.
Lim is a “yarn bomber”, that is, she adorns public objects with colourful crocheted or knitted yarn, creating soft sculptures over urban architecture that make for fun pictures and tactile experiences for children.
At the Indian Heritage centre, her yarnbombs are inspired by Hindu mythology and the Indian community, while at the Malay Heritage Centre, they are influenced by traditional wayang kulit characters and motifs from Malay culture.
Her multihued tassels and decorations at the verandah of Sun Yat Sen Nanyang Memorial Hall are reminiscent of the costumes and movements of Chinese lion dance.
Also launched recently is the annual Children’s Season by the National Heritage Board in Singapore. Renamed Children’s Season Singapore this year, it features more than 120 programmes. For the first time, it is partnering non-heritage institutions such as Wildlife Reserves Singapore, Esplanade, and the Singapore Chinese Orchestra.
Festival director and National Museum of Singapore director Angelita Teo says: “Through these meaningful activities, we hope to cultivate in our young ones fond memories of growing up in Singapore and inspire a lifelong love of learning and of our rich culture and heritage.” – The Straits Times/Asia News Network/Lea Wee